The Oakland A’s snapped a three-game Cactus League losing streak on Wednesday, and they did so in a big way.
The A’s lineup exploded in a 10-5 victory over the Kansas City Royals, and there were even more positive takeaways than that score might suggest.
The top highlights came on offense, where the A’s did most of their damage in the middle innings. From the 4th-6th combined they put nine runs on the board, including a bunch off former teammate Mike Minor, who signed with the Royals this winter as a free agent.
Oakland had a couple of bubble roster candidates at the bottom of the order, and both had great days. Outfielder Ka’ai Tom, looking to prove himself as a Rule 5 draft pick after a brief injury setback, doubled in a pair of runs in the 4th and later added a single, pushing his spring line to 3-for-6.
Manager Bob Melvin said the following about Tom, who stands 5’9, per insider Martin Gallegos:
“For a little guy, he’s got some juice in his bat. To see him take good at-bats off lefties and hit the ball the other way, that’s what we’re looking to see. Use the whole field. So far, so good.”
Tom’s double came at the platoon disadvantage against the southpaw Minor, and it nearly cleared the fence in the LF corner for an opposite-field homer, instead doing so on a hop for an automatic double.
Backup catcher candidate Aramis Garcia was even better. He doubled twice, knocking in a run each time, once in the 4th inning and again in the 6th. That raises his spring line to 6-for-17, albeit with eight strikeouts in only 19 plate appearances. On defense, he threw out another baserunner trying to steal, after doing so in another game just a few days ago.
The next best line belonged to Jed Lowrie, who had his second straight strong day at the plate. He doubled twice, including one that went to the wall, though the second hit was more of a lost-in-the-sun non-error, per Shayna Rubin of the Mercury News. Here’s the good one:
Of note is that Lowrie’s homer yesterday and his double today both came from the right side of the plate, against lefty pitchers.
Almost everyone in the starting lineup got a hit, but a few other standouts were Matt Olson with his fourth homer of the spring; Chad Pinder and Stephen Piscotty with RBI singles; and Seth Brown with an RBI double off the bench.
The A’s put out most of their MLB lineup, plus a couple of new players competing for Opening Day spots, and it resulted in 10 runs on 14 hits, nine of them for extra-bases. Those precise numbers don’t matter much, but the point is everyone was swinging well, and in particular Tom and Garcia are doing everything they can to earn jobs and Zombie Lowrie is looking more real by the day.
Pitching, starring Puk and Rosenthal
The A’s began the game with a big spring debut on the mound, as top prospect A.J. Puk returned to action after missing a full year to a shoulder injury — he last appeared in late-February of 2020 spring training.
The lefty didn’t finish with a flawless box score, but the results were plenty encouraging. He went one turn through the lineup over two innings, retiring six of his nine batters including four strikeouts. In the 1st he allowed a walk and a homer for a pair of runs, and later a groundball single, but perfection wasn’t the goal here. He got on the mound, didn’t hurt anything, and retired some big league hitters.
Puk got up to 93 mph on his fastball, which is notably lower than his usual mid/upper-90s radar readings, but he didn’t sound worried about the velocity dip and was happy with how he commanded his pitches, per Rubin:
“Maybe I’ll get the velocity fully back. Maybe not. I’m more concerned about going out there and feeling good, which I did.”
He threw first-pitch strikes to eight of his nine batters, notes radio broadcaster Vince Cotroneo.
Hot Take: Athletics Nation is rightfully concerned about any loss in velocity, but let’s wait a couple more games before deciding if we should freak out about a low-90s Puk. This is a time to celebrate that he pitched at all, and that he struck out nearly half his batters even without his usual heat.
AJ Puk strikes out Whit Merrifield on three pitches to open this game. 93-92-86 K swinging pic.twitter.com/whH0923Qlo— Matt Kawahara (@matthewkawahara) March 17, 2021
After Puk came new closer Trevor Rosenthal, who was delayed by a slight groin strain. He gave up a run on a couple hits and a walk, but this was one of those cases where he was working on specific pitches. He normally uses his fastball over two-thirds of the time, but today 12 of his 20 offerings were secondaries, notes Matt Kawahara of the S.F. Chronicle. When he did use his heater, he was around 95-97 mph, which is on the lower end of his average as you’d expect for a spring debut.
Trevor Rosenthal hitting 95-96 on his fastball. Gave up a few hits and a run in his first spring outing. pic.twitter.com/d2eRjB5P6h— Shayna Rubin (@ShaynaRubin) March 17, 2021
The other pitching highlight came from prospect Daulton Jefferies, who is competing with Puk for the fifth starter spot in the likely event that Mike Fiers (hip) isn’t ready for the season. The young right-hander was appearing for the fourth time this spring and he finally allowed his first earned runs, on a two-run dinger by Hunter Dozier, an MLB star who just signed a long-term contract. Otherwise he was unhittable, striking out half of the 12 batters he faced over three innings.
Jefferies, spring total: 9 ip, 2 earned runs, 13 Ks, 3 BB, 2 HR
The Oakland win was nice, but this was one case where the takeaways are even better than the positive result in the meaningless standings. Several hitters had big days in their battles for roster spots, two key pitchers returned strong from injuries, and another top starting pitching prospect continued his bid to break camp with the team. Not a bad day in the Cactus League.